David Shepherd was by far the most loved and respected umpire to have graced international cricket. To maintain a pleasant, jovial relationship with a majority of the cricketers, especially when he was around for almost 22 years, speaks volumes of the man’s ability to arouse admiration. Seldom did he commit blunders, and on the rare occasions that he did, the players were quick to forgive. Even fierce competitors like Curtly Ambrose and David Boon had kind words to offer when Shepherd officiated in their respective last games, and that shows the high regard he was held in. Such was the aura he created.
Although Shepherd never played a Test, he was a prominent personality on the county circuit. On his debut for Gloucestershire in 1965, he scored a century against Oxford University. He soon became an important fixture in a team that boasted the likes of Mike Procter and Zaheer Abbas. He represented his county for a good thirteen years and added eleven more centuries to the tally, before finishing with over 10000 first-class runs to his name. Shepard’s most memorable moment during his playing days would have come when he scored a brilliant 153 against Middlesex at Bristol. Also, he was a part of the Gloucestershire team that won the Gillette Cup in 1973 and the Benson & Hedges Trophy in 1977 at Lords.
Shepherd first officiated in a One-Day International (ODI) during the 1983 World Cup in a game that involved Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He made his Test debut as an umpire two years later in the fourth match of the 1985 Ashes series. Incidentally, Shepherd’s final Test had Pakistan as one of the teams, and his last ODI was that between England and Australia at The Oval in 2005. In 22 years, Shepherd had overseen 92 Tests and 172 ODI matches. He officiated in six World Cups, inclusive of three finals, a feat that is second to none. By 2009, only Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen had surpassed his total in Tests.
Although Shepherd is known to be a gentle character both on and off the field, he never once hesitated in taking a firm stance when it came to the former if need be. Not many can forget how Waqar Younis was severely reprimanded by him for bowling a dangerous line to Andrew Symonds during the 2003 World Cup. It’s something the umpires are eventually forced to do at one point or another. “I like to think I have a pleasant, at times jovial, relationship with the cricketers. But there have to be limits. I've had stern words with famous players. Once at Edgbaston I needed to lecture Mike Atherton when I felt he was sledging Sachin Tendulkar,” Shepherd told ESPNCricinfo.
However, such instances have fortunately been few and far between in Shepherd’s umpiring career, primarily because the respect he doles out to the players is often reciprocated. Former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara aptly described Shepherd’s presence in the middle when he said, “He was always a thorough gentleman, courteous and one of the best umpires the game has seen. It was always a pleasure to have him during the game because he didn't have abrupt and rough manner with players; he was willing to explain why he made his decision the way he did. He was very direct, honest and straightforward with the players - that's one of the best qualities about him.”
A unique trait of Shepherd’s that will forever be etched in the minds of cricket viewers is his hopping at the sight of ‘Nelson’ on the scoreboard. Whenever a team’s score arrived at 111, or on one of its multiples, Shepherd would hop on one leg every few seconds until a run had been added. Having been brought up in Instow, England, it’s a superstition that has stayed with him ever since his club-cricket days and, he once stated that he’d be horrified to miss a Nelson or a Double Nelson.
At the age of 68, four years after he retired from umpiring in international cricket, Shepherd passed away after a long battle with cancer. The cricketing world paid rich tribute to the man who was widely adored and respected, and although there have been some fairly good umpires after him, it can safely be said that David Shepherd’s presence in the middle remains unparalleled.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
First Published: December 27, 2012, 2:24 pm